Jul. 04

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

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Court Rules against EPA

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is busy killing off Obama-era antipollution regulations as fast as he can. However, he hit a roadblock yesterday when the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered him to enforce a rule limiting pollution from oil and gas drilling. Pruitt had argued that the Obama administration did not follow the proper procedures when it created the rule, but the court didn't buy that argument. The rule in question was part of a strategy to limit methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The ruling was 2 to 1, with Judge David Tatel (a Bill Clinton appointee) and Judge Robert Wilkins (a Barack Obama appointee) ruling against Pruitt and Judge Janice Brown (a George W. Bush appointee) supporting him. The ruling is a small victory for the environmental movement, but given the large number of rules and regulations Pruitt wants to throw out, there will be many defeats ahead. (V)

Trump Will Meet with Merkel but Not May

There have been rumors that Donald Trump will visit the U.K. on his trip to Europe when he goes to France to celebrate Bastille Day. The U.K. government has said that it is not aware of any such plans. Prime Minister Theresa May did invite Trump to visit the U.K., but the P.M.'s official spokesperson said: "I am not aware of any plans for the president to visit the U.K. in the next few weeks."

However, Trump will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday in advance of the G20 summit in Hamburg. It should be an interesting meeting, as Merkel has lashed out at Trump. Among other things, she recently said: "Whoever believes that the world's problems can be solved by isolationism and protectionism is mistaken." Merkel has not hidden the fact that she has no respect whatsoever for Trump and the thing Trump hates the most is dealing with people who have no respect for him.

Also noteworthy is a subtle change in the program of Merkel's CDU party. It calls the United States Germany's "most important partner" outside of Europe. The 2013 edition of the party program called the U.S. "Germany's most important friend" outside of Europe. (V)

Trump May Meet with Putin This Week

It is likely that Donald Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this week. It will be the first face-to-face meeting of the two leaders. Putin has undoubtedly prepared very well for it, while Trump may or may not have prepared for it at all. Topics will certainly include the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, the fight against ISIS, and the sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Russia.

The tone of the meeting could be critical. If Trump makes nice to Putin and then comes back to the U.S. and reports what a nice fellow he is, he may run into some headwinds from people who think Russia interfered with the election. If Trump stands up to Putin (unlikely), he runs the risk of inflaming international relations. (V)

Trump CNN Video Originated with Racist Anti-Semite

In case Donald Trump did not excite enough negative commentary by tweeting a video of himself beating up a person with a CNN logo for a head, now comes news that the video was produced by a reddit user named HanA**holeSolo, who has a long, long, long history on the platform of posting racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and other bigoted comments.

This development brings up two points worth noting. First is that, at very least, Trump is (once again) on the same page with a racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist. For most people, that would be concerning, but apparently it's not for him. Second, is that we are left to wonder exactly where he got the video from. The White House insists that they did not get it from HanA**holeSolo directly, but they are refusing to elaborate beyond that. In the absence of any better information, then, we are left to conclude that Trump and his underlings are connected in some meaningful way to some pretty reprehensible Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and/or websites. (Z)

Wagner Won't Challenge McCaskill

One of the most endangered Democratic senators in 2018, Claire McCaskill (D-MO), just got a little less endangered. The reason is that you can't beat somebody with nobody, and the Republicans' first choice, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), has decided not to challenge McCaskill. The reason she gave was that she wanted to focus on her family and her home district (English translation: McCaskill raised a record $2.8 million in Q1 2017 and incumbent senators win about 90% of the time).

Republicans are disappointed, but are now looking at their #2 choice: Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. However, Hawley has only been attorney general for 6 months, and leaping to a Senate race so quickly is going to open him up to charges of simply being an opportunistic politician who has no interest in doing the job he told the people of Missouri he would do. If Hawley passes, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) are probably the third and fourth choices.

McCaskill is probably the Republicans' #1 target in the 2018 Senate contests, as Trump took the state by 18 points in 2016. McCaskill won in 2012 in part because she faced Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin. Most likely the 2018 Republican candidate will be clever enough to avoid talking too much about rape. There are Democratic senators up in states Trump won by an even bigger margin, but local factors also play a big role. For example, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has to run in a state Trump carried by 40 points, but Manchin has won statewide in West Virginia five times, including two terms as governor, and has an approve/disapprove rating of 57%/30%, so he is not in as much danger as the 2016 presidential election might indicate. (V)

Electoral Integrity Commission Not Going as Planned

Yet another high-profile initiative of the Trump administration is well on its way to going the way of the dodo, thanks—yet again—to a haphazard, ill-conceived plan of attack. It's been less than a week since Kris Kobach, acting in his capacity as a member of the President's Electoral Integrity Commission, sent letters to 50 secretaries of state demanding they turn over copies of their voter rolls. The plan is to make an argument of massive voter fraud based on citizens who are registered to vote in more than one state. It would seem that state officials know a half-baked scheme when they see one, because 41 of the 50 have now told Kobach to forget it.

The bad news does not end there, though. Kobach himself is in some hot water, as he's now facing an ethics complaint filed by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. They note that Kobach utilized his status as a member of the commission to promote his 2018 candidacy for governor of Kansas, and argue that he thus committed a violation of the Hatch Act, since federal employees are not allowed to use their office to help political candidates (even themselves). A Kobach spokeswoman said nothing untoward has occurred, but we should probably wait for a judge to weigh in before we reach any conclusions.

And finally, at least one member of the commission has had enough. Luis Borunda, Maryland's deputy Secretary of State, announced on Monday that he had resigned from the panel. Borunda did not explain himself, nor respond to requests for comment, but the timing certainly suggests that he sees a wild goose chase, and wants no part of it. (Z)

Trump Has Learned at Least One Thing About Politics

When it comes to getting things done, whether it be Obamacare repeals, or electoral integrity commissions, or Muslim travel bans, Donald Trump has yet to show much ability. However, he is pretty good at one aspect of his new profession, something that his colleagues learned in Politics 101: Seizing every opportunity to score a few cheap points.

The current case in point, which might well be described as Terri Schiavo v2.0, involves Charlie Gard of Great Britain. In short, Gard is an infant born with a genetic condition that left him brain-dead and unable to live without the aid of machines, and that will be terminal sooner rather than later. His doctors want to remove him from life support, his parents do not, and the courts have sided with the former. But before the doctors could pull the plug, the Pope took an interest in the case, and so Gard's fate became an issue of international concern.

This is where Trump enters the picture. He and the Pope do not agree on much, it would seem, but the President was happy to jump on board with this one, tweeting:

If we can help little #CharlieGard, as per our friends in the U.K. and the Pope, we would be delighted to do so.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2017

Needless to say, there is absolutely nothing the United States can do to change this situation. But, by jumping in, Trump makes the overt point that he's a nice guy, and the slightly more subtle point that socialized medicine is evil. Judging by his Twitter replies, both messages were received, loud and clear. (Z)

Christie Racing to the Bottom

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) was once the GOP's heir apparent, the Republican who could appeal to the Bush coalition, while also attracting some centrist Democrats. If he could have done it, that would have made him a latter-day Ronald Reagan. But then, Christie began talking more like a latter-day Barry Goldwater, and he was swept aside by the Trump tsunami. He's lost interest in his current job, and has recently overseen a shutdown of the Garden State. Add it all up, and he's got the lowest approval rating of any governor in America: 15%.

He's not done, though. In an apparent effort to throw gasoline on the dumpster fire, Christie paid a visit to the beach this weekend. This would be the same beach that is inaccessible to anyone else in New Jersey because of the government shutdown. A photographer in a helicopter captured a picture of the governor lounging, and it looks very bad. Like, Mike Dukakis in the tank bad. Christie might have responded to the mini-scandal with grace, or maybe even an apology, but instead he effectively announced that if voters don't like it, then they should get elected governor of New Jersey.

At this point, politics-watchers with an interest in the macabre are following all of this with one question in mind: Can Christie pull the worst approval rating ever? At the moment, he's number four, but within shouting distance of number three Frank Murkowski of Alaska, who dropped to 14% after appointing his daughter to the Senate seat he had just vacated. The good news for Christie is that the bottom two spots are held by Rod Blagojevich (8%) and Bob Taft (7%), and he's not likely to drop that low unless he commits an actual crime, like they did. The bad news for New Jersey Republicans is that when the head is rotten, it generally takes a lot of the body with it. So, they are likely to suffer a shellacking when voters go to the polls in November of this year. (Z)

Fourth of July: The Original Fake News

Today, of course, is Independence Day—our best wishes to everyone as they commemorate America's 241st birthday. We would be remiss, however, if we did not take this opportunity to point out that the holiday probably should not be on the fourth at all, and is only held on this day because of misunderstandings and miscommunications that, if they happened today, would certainly be called "fake news" in some quarters.

To start, it is worth noting that by the time the Continental Congress declared independence, they were merely doing what over 80 states and towns had already done. And when the Congressmen finally pulled the trigger for the nation as a whole, they actually did so on July 2. John Adams, who was there, was certain that, "the Second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America." Two days later, Thomas Jefferson completed the document that announced the Congress' decision and explained its reasons. Journalists of the time seized on that document, the Declaration of Independence, and noted the fact that it was dated July 4. So, they concluded that the actual decision had been made on July 4, and that is the news that was passed from person to person and journal to journal across the country. The Declaration wasn't even signed on the 4th—by all evidence, it didn't have the signatures that made it official until August 2.

The Founders, incidentally, quibbled about these details, and the exact timing of events, for the rest of their lives. If only they had had Twitter, they could have just double-checked their timelines. One can imagine Thomas Jefferson, who was always in on the latest technological innovations, tweeting: "Finished Declaration today, it's going to be yuuuuuge. #MAG!" (Z)
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